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Thursday, 22 September 2011

China to launch unmanned space module next week

China will launch an unmanned module next week, paving the way for a planned space station, a spokesman for the space program has said.

Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace 1", will be launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province between September 27 and 30, the China Daily quoted the spokesman, as saying.

The 8.5-ton module, and the Long March II-F rocket that will carry it skyward, were positioned onto the launch pad on Tuesday, signaling that the project has entered the final preparation stage.

"Scientists will conduct final tests in the next few days before injecting propellants for the launch," Cui Jijun, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, said.

The program spokesman said that Tiangong-1 will serve as "a target spacecraft" for rendezvous and docking experiments, and will work as "a platform to test long-term unmanned and short-term manned operations".

An unmanned Shenzhou-VIII craft would reportedly be launched later this year to dock with Tiangong-1. In 2012, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X will blast off to complete at least one manned docking, the paper said.

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